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  • Learning to Garden

  • Why do we choose certain pursuits? Natural inclinations? Genetically bound memory? A longing for something missing in our lives or maybe some childhood need? I'm not sure what it was for me, but at some point in my young adult life, I fell in love with gardening. As a child, I didn't learn much about the subject. The gardens ...
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  • Why do we choose certain pursuits? Natural inclinations? Genetically bound memory? A longing for something missing in our lives or maybe some childhood need? I'm not sure what it was for me, but at some point in my young adult life, I fell in love with gardening. As a child, I didn't learn much about the subject. The gardens were places where adults worked, and children played. I do recall my mother's and my grandparent's garden, and my wandering through their towering rows of corn and navigating mazes of raspberry bushes. So it made sense, I suppose, that when I left country living to live in a city, something twitched inside me, and I began craving a garden of my own.
    My infatuation began when I was a junior in college where I shared a house with four other young women. We got to talking one lazy Saturday morning and, being fledgling hippie women, thought starting a kitchen garden in our small, urban backyard would be a perfect idea. I got several gardening books from the library and read them hungrily, called my gardening-experienced mom for advice, and bought tools, seeds and gloves from the local store. I fortified myself to garden. Finally, feeling ready, I gathered my supplies and went to break ground in the tiny dirt patch at the back of the house.
    Looking down at that 5-foot by 6-foot piece of hard-packed dirt where a few weeds reluctantly sprouted, I tried to figure out what to do first. "Make a plan "¦ select vegetables that you enjoy "¦ determine how much you can plant," advised the gardening books. The information I had gleaned swirled around in my head and seemed overwhelming, so I just shoved the gardening tine into the earth, leaned it back and pushed up the first clump of clay-like soil.
    How do I describe that feeling of breaking ground, of tearing at the earth, again and again, digging and turning and seeing that hard unyielding ground acquiesce and begin to soften? Beads of sweat collected in the small of my back. The skin of my hands burned. My breath deepened, rich and full. Satisfaction. Exhilaration. This was the ritual of the ages. This was life readying.
    I stroked that ground, dug, raked, again and again until its silky smoothness satisfied me, and then placed the seeds at the required distances and depths. After dotting the rows with neat little signs to remember what I'd planted, I admired the work. Now just water and wait, I thought.
    A couple of weeks passed. I was busy with school and work, but watered and waited while the seeds barely sprouted. The ground had hardened again, and the plants had grown into scraggly little shoots. I sighed, took the hoe and continued to poke, to re-loosen the hardened ground, hoping for the beautiful bushes that graced the seed packets I had bought.
    Alhough I only reaped a few scrawny cucumbers and carrots from my first garden, the less than adequate fruits of my labor left me undaunted. This first attempt at gardening left a lingering taste of hope and of possibility.
    I continued gardening. I read books. I subscribed to gardening magazines and talked more with my mother. Every year I planted, and each season some little thing in the earth, the soil, revealed a bit more of its magic. I tasted the patience of tomatoes; I choked on the persistence of weeds; I learned bit by bit. Slowly, the garden gave to me. Not harvest bounty, but life bounty. Each time I tended my garden, no matter how small the space or short the time, that kinship with the ages settled back into me. My heart rate slowed, my muscles strengthened, and I breathed deeply of life.
    I own my own home in a small town now, and my garden space is a bit larger than that first one. After years of tinkering in it and browsing gardening books, I know enough that I can be as ardent and determined as I want to be, or I can use what I know of nature and her ways and let her take her course. Each year, I return to my somewhat bigger garden plot behind my current home and break the ground to learn again how to garden.
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